Part III: The Last Moments of the Sean Goldman Case

Revista Piauí

The Last Moments of the Sean Goldman Case
Piauí Magazine, Brazil
February 2010

Dorrit Harazim reports on the negotiations and pressure up to the moment the boy was put on an airplane back to the United States with his father


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The producer Benita Noel telephoned from room 815 to say she was ready to put David Goldman live on air as soon as Gilmar Mendes spoke. She said that the airplane chartered by NBC for the trip, a Gulfstream G-4, would have room for Zamariola and Ortiz. Chris Smith would return on a commercial flight, as US Representatives are prohibited from riding in private planes. In the room television, turned on all the time, the news about the accident involving filmmaker Fábio Barreto was being relayed with the suspense surrounding the Sean Goldman case.

Ortiz encouraged Zamariola to go to the United States:

– You’ve got to go to the end, man. You have to go along to see the boy arrive in the United States.

– When the decision is out, and if it’s in our favor, the best thing is for Paulinho to get the Supreme Court to notify the Federal Court of Appeals here in Rio right away- said Zamariola, avoiding the subject about him going to the United States as well.

And he added:

– I am sure the text of the decision will be on the internet before Paulo can send us a copy.

– This business of Gilmar taking center stage is deliberate: he issues a note saying he will decide the next day! I’ve never seen anything like it, mainly at the Supreme Court – said Ortiz.

– Given the level of the other two Branches, it is easier to be visible at the Supreme Court. They can say what they want, but the Judiciary still has the best prepared people. Not necessarily the most ethical, but the best prepared- Zamariola answered.

It was just before 11 AM and Paulo Roberto Andrade announced that Judge Gilmar Mendes had just arrived at the Supreme Court and had gone into his office. “And there I was thinking he would arrive at 10 with a copy of the decision in his hand,” moaned Ricardo Zamariola.

Andrade called again and said that Márcio Thomaz Bastos, a former Justice Minister under President Lula, had just arrived and sat next to him. Zamariola and Ortiz were perplexed and concerned. They texted their partner in Brasilia asking him to find out what had led the powerful Thomaz Bastos to the Supreme Court almost on Christmas eve.

Ortiz’ cell phone rang. No, it wasn’t from Brasilia. It was Eduardo, his four-year-old son saying he had gotten some Lego as a present and asking his father to help him put it together. The telephone rang again. This time it was Andrade. “So, nothing?” he asked “Who has come out? Thomaz Bastos as well? He only stayed seven minutes? And the chief of staff, he’s gone for lunch? Well, you stay there, don’t leave.”

By three in the afternoon no one at the Supreme Court had come back from lunch. Andrade and the two lawyers from the other side had had lunch together – so that neither side would let its guard down.

Zamariola was sitting on the edge of the unmade bed as neither he nor Ortiz had left the room for the housekeeper to work. With his head in his hands he said nothing for a long time. He did not know if he would be spending Christmas at home, in the United States or in that room.

Paulo Andrade telephoned and delivered devastating news to his two partners: a second provisional custody appeal from Sean’s Brazilian family had arrived at the Superior Tribunal of Justice. Marcos Ortiz took his tie off, unbuttoned his collar and took off his shoes. “Deep down, we are just watching. We can’t do anything else. They are doing whatever they want to,” said Zamariola. But just to be sure he ordered the São Paulo office to have Sean’s mother’s death certificate sent over by courier.

Andrade texted his friends: “Just to let you know, I have memorized the Supreme Court Judges since the 1930s.” Allowing for a break at night and rushed lunch he calculated that he had spent over twenty hours in that anteroom on the third floor of the STF building. Without any windows or anything to read.

At four in the afternoon, Aldrin, Ricardo’s girlfriend, telephoned asking for news. “Nothing. It’s all going to go wrong,” Zamariola told her. “It’s going to be a farce. How did we get to the point where we ask if the vote of the President of the Supreme Court is going to be worth anything?” Feeling down, he sighed: “It’s nonsense. David paying for all this here – this room – and me, in a tie doing nothing all day.” Five floors below, David Goldman, inscrutable, had gone back to the crosswords. Zamariola got a call from his father and summed up his state of mind: “It’s a mess, dad. Maybe I’ll get there only on the 24th.”

The national news began, watched nervously in rooms 815 and 1001. Nothing new on Sean’s case.

Without any family background in law, Zamariola managed the case virtually alone, from the technical point of view. He was helped by an intern in São Paulo and a lawyer who had been hired just to follow the goings on in Rio.

On the other side rose up a phalanx of large firms and intimidating-sounding names from the legal world. There were seven in all. Luiz Cláudio Fábregas, son of an appeals court judge and brother of a Judge from a Rio family, ran things while they were at the State Court. With over 32 years in the job, Fábregas is the current President of the Rio section of the Brazilian Institute of Family Law.

In the Federal area, Bruna Bianchi had been defended by the firm of Binenboim, Gama & Carvalho Britto Advocacia. With her death, the case began in the hands of Flávio Britto, moved to Carlos Eduardo Sampaio and settled at the firm of Sergio Tostes, whose partner is the former president of the Tribunal of Justice in Rio de Janeiro, Miguel Pachá. The three-floor office on Rua da AssembIeia, was opened in 1973, eight years before Ricardo Zamariola was born. It has 65 lawyers and heavyweight corporate clients.

In Brasília Sean’s Brazilian family had the law firm of Vinicius de Figueiredo Teixeira, the son of a Superior Justice Tribunal judge. On the suit filed against David Goldman for damages were Renato Arouca Höfke Costa and Davi Medina Vilela. Completing the lineup, the appeal filed on behalf of Sean’s grandmother was handled by lawyers at Dunshee de Abranches Advogados.

This is not to mention the blood-line involved in the case – Paulo and his son João Paulo Lins e Silva, who calculates he has taken part in over 1,000 family law cases, as he stated to the magazine Veja in July 2009. “It really was one against a million,” says Paulo Roberto Andrade.

David Goldman’s Brazilian lawyer’s fees went up by US$45,000 with the sudden death of Bruna and the appearance on the scene of the stepfather as the adversarial party. The wall facing Ricardo Zamariola was not just financial. He almost threw in the towel twice. His girlfriend Aldrin remembers that there were times when he was so worn out he could not rest. “I can’t fight a web I don’t know anything about,” he told her.

The partners in the firm took the decision to help him, but 90% of the legal decisions had been made by the youngest one. “Ricardo’s mastery of the case was unbelievably complete,” says Paulo Roberto Andrade.

In October 2008 Zamariola told David Goldman he would hire a renowned firm in Rio. The American gave him the green light, but included the condition that he would not leave the case until it had been closed. Zamariola sounded out six large firms and all six refused. Five said they would not work against the Lins e Silva family. The sixth explained that it could not because it had prior knowledge of the case through another party.

Ricardo Zamariola stopped looking and got through the crisis by throwing himself still deeper into the work, which kept on growing. From the time João Paulo Lins e Silva came on the scene, his adversaries had filed ten interlocutory appeals, one writ of mandamus, one interlocutory injunction, four writs of habeas corpus, two appeals, one exception of suspicion, one appeal to the Supreme Court and an allegation of noncompliance with a fundamental precept (filed formally by the Partido Popular).

On Wednesday June 10th 2009, Zamariola made the fourth oral argument before a court of his life. However, instead of facing a lower court, as is usual, he was addressing the Supreme Court in Brasília, broadcast live. He scribbled his notes the night before, in a hotel room. On taking the floor, he looked like a college student standing before a bench of scholars. His hair was unruly and his gown, required in such a setting, appeared to have been made for a larger man.

The plenary session began at two in the afternoon. The young lawyer began his oral argument immediately after Sergio Tostes, and began with a slip that would have wrong-footed a veteran: before uttering a word, he drank some water from a glass on his right. It was Tostes’ glass, which had not been taken away. Condescending chuckles rang round the gallery, mainly from his adversaries.

“I couldn’t look at the television, and was shaking so much I could hardly hear,” remembers Paulo Andrade. From the start, his voice sounded scratchy and dry. That was when Zamariola emerged from his cocoon. It took less than five minutes to hold the attention of the judges and the gallery. He began to grow, establishing himself, pointing out and getting across a simple message: Sean has a father. One by one he demolished the family’s arguments about wiping the results of a psychological evaluation done of Sean by three experts nominated by the Federal Justice, and thus drove home the stake that would stop the boy from being kept in Rio. “While I watched in agony,” says Paulo Andrade, “I was thinking: wow – this man is brilliant, how much better he is than me!”

Before the Goldman case, Ricardo Zamariola had never thought about becoming a judge one day. “But after reading the ruling handed down by Rafael de Souza Pereira Pinto, of the 16th Federal Court, who first granted custody of the boy to his father, I had the desire to one day be able to write something as clear as that,” he says. “How much I would like to have done that. It is beautiful to know how to honor the gown – it can be so noble!”

Continued Page 4

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